Singapore building on existing expertise to create jobs in new and old industries: EDB chief

These are adjacent industries that build on current expertise, higher skilled jobs in existing industries, and hub and digital services, the Singapore Economic Development Board's managing director Chng Kai Fong said.
These are adjacent industries that build on current expertise, higher skilled jobs in existing industries, and hub and digital services, the Singapore Economic Development Board's managing director Chng Kai Fong said.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Located in a growing Asian market, Singapore is attracting new jobs in three key areas.

These are adjacent industries that build on current expertise, higher skilled jobs in existing industries, and hub and digital services, the Singapore Economic Development Board's (EDB) managing director Chng Kai Fong said on Thursday (Jan 11).

Mr Chng, who took over the EDB helm last October, said companies overseas are wanting to use the expertise of businesses here to create solutions in up-and-coming industries.

For example, the design and manufacturing of self-driving cars make use of wafer fabrication plants, software developers, and the artificial intelligence (AI) research community here, he told a forum on future jobs, skills and training.

The country also has capabilities useful for agriculture technology, such as in electronics, solar cells, software and AI - which can help in optimising plant yields.

He told how he bought a salad recently and discovered it was made by electronics manufacturer Panasonic, which has incorporated a farm in a factory to test agri-tech.

"With technology, things that we never dreamed were possible in the past now are possible, and we can chase those industries," he said.

Existing companies are also being transformed so that good jobs are created. For example, in aerospace, an engine-servicing facility here has been upgraded to service new types of engines as older types are phased out.

"The good news (for workers) is we have an existing base of industries here, and you have an existing base of skills to build on, and those are the jobs we are bringing in," he said.

Many companies are also setting up digital hubs here as they try to digitalise their processes, he told some some 550 people including union leaders, employers and educators at the event organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said after the event that although the job situation improved last year with fewer lay-offs than in 2016, structural challenges persist in many industries.

This is why the Future Jobs, Skills and Training department he heads has been focused on analysing the upcoming changes and needs in growth sectors, so that this information can be used to help workers prepare.

Last year, the unit focused on the financial services sector, infocomm technology, healthcare, manufacturing and engineering, as well as wholesale trade.

This year it plans to add accountancy to that list. "There is jobs growth potential there but also heavy disruption as manual work is moving towards automation and AI," said Mr Tay.

The forum at the NTUC Centre saw two panels of experts discussing the fast-changing jobs and skills arenas.

Citibank Singapore chief executive Han Kwee Juan said that with smart banking, jobs such as tellers and cash officers have disappeared, while people are now trained in multiple skills to work in new jobs as "universal service bankers".

Physical sales roles are being reduced as customers prefer to surf for information online, at their own time, and chatbots will eliminate jobs in call centres.

More generally, Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific board advisor Andrew Chong said the jobs that will flourish are those that require workers to act more independently, based on principles, rather than simply following rules.

While hard skills needed for new jobs are still being defined, panellists agreed that workers should hone soft skills like problem-solving, an open mind and adaptability.

At the same time, identifying and acquiring new skills is easier than before, said Singapore Computer Society president Howie Lau, adding that information on "hot" topics is readily available online, as are training videos and platforms.

Mr Gilbert Tan, chief executive of the Employment and Employability Institute, agreed, but cautioned that "we as workers need to differentiate real and fake news" - especially when it affects skills at work.